Monday, September 2, 2013

Michael Ernest Sweet

Michael Ernest Sweet is a Canadian award-winning educator, writer and photographer. Michael's written work has appeared in such iconic publications as The Evergreen Review and English Journal. His photography is widely published and was most recently featured in Popular Photography and Black and White magazines. His first full-length art monograph titled, "The Human Fragment" is forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press in 2013. Michael Sweet is a national recipient of both the Prime Minister's Award and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award in Canada for significant contributions to his country in the field of education and the arts. You can follow Michael through his website at or on Twitter @28mmphotos.

View more of his work here 

Michael is also a member of the photography collective, Noise

Ashley Kauschinger: Can you talk a bit about your Coney Island series? What is your thought process behind these images?

Michael Ernest Sweet: Coney Island was a homage, a pilgrimage even, to the most religious site photography can offer in the US. From Weegee to Gilden they have all been to Coney Island, they all have "Coney Island photographs". I wanted mine. I also wanted to be different. I wanted to capture a modern feel, I wanted to capture the Coney Island of today. It's an "edgy" place. I think that comes through in my work. I also think that I was reasonably successful in making photographs that are unique and different but also have that homage that I speak of. People are vulnerable when they are on the beach in their bikini or speedos. It's hard to get in so close and then fire a flash (as I often do even on the beach in sunlight). I'd always get home in the evening and be both exhausted as well as anxious and shaken. You get told off a certain amount there these days too. But, in the end, I'm happy with how the series finished. If it is finished. Let's see.

AK: What attracts you to a moment or composition? What is the editing process like for you vs when you are out shooting?

MES: I'm not sure, actually. I just act. It's instinct I guess. I don't think much when I am photographing in the streets - It is organic. The editing process is also kind of organic. I delete many images immediately after taking them. It's part of being trigger happy. I then delete more on the way home on the subway etc. That evening I will delete more. In the end I will have a couple images per day maybe. Again, after a month or two I will delete more. I shoot about 300 images in a typical afternoon on the streets. Yet, after four years of serious shooting my hard drive has about 400 images. That should tell you everything. I'm not a pixel collector. If the image is not one of my best it's garbage. In the old days photographers would periodically burn their negatives. Sometimes all of them. A purge, a creative reset. I do this. Sometimes I will go into my archive and just delete. I think it's a good habit. Others will argue that you should keep every image. So it goes.

AK: Does the history of street photography influence you? What (or who) are some of your greatest inspirations?

The history of street photography does influence me, of course, but to a limited extent. I'm not really a street photographer, I suppose. Not in the way people think of that term today at least. I rarely shoot faces anymore. They don't interest me. Who cares about Peggy and her grocery run or her big ass sunglasses. Who values this photography. I don't see much of it in galleries or museums or whatever. I think that type of street photography is largely bullshit - largely an incestuous audienceless racket. I'm more a photographer who simply works in the street a lot. This brings me to some of my influences I guess. Chiefly among them would be Daido Moriyama, Mark Cohen, William Klein and also Nan Goldin. There are many others. I spend a lot of time looking at the work of others. I try to respect that photography is a community and a conversation. I try not to get too absorbed in my own work. I buy a lot of photography books too.

AK: You wrote "The Street Photography Bible". If you had to summarize what you think to be the most essential qualities of shooting street photography, what would they be? What advice do you have for photographers nervous to shoot on the street?

MES: The most essential quality is probably courage. Go in for the shot. Apologize, or fight or flee or whatever after the shot. Don't be one of those that say I should have or I could have. Do it. Shoot. The worst that has ever happened to me (and I work close, like inches away from people) is that a woman hit me with her handbag and swore at me. Big deal. I was over it in no time. My advice for people who are nervous to shoot in the street is to not shoot. Seriously. Maybe it's not for you. Try photographing cats or do portraits. If you work in the streets and are not comfortable it will show in your work. Your work will be shit. There is way too much crap street photography out there for goodness sake spare us.

AK: Your monograph, "The Human Fragment" will be published by Brooklyn Arts Press in late 2013. Can you talk about what this process was like from beginning to end? What do you think about your images' transformation into book form?

MES: It was interesting. Thankfully I have a wonderful publisher and editor. I dislike the loss of control that inevitably comes with publishing a book. But you have to realize that the publisher is investing a lot of time and money in you and they need to control their investment to an extent. It's a give and take. That's hard for an artist though. I love the idea of my work in a book. I am a book photographer. My work is not for gallery walls. I have no interest in that at all. I've always known my work was destined for books. I photograph for the page. I see images in a book when I photograph. I never imagine my work on walls or in frames. That's so foreign to me. So this is a process I will need to get used to I guess - this bookmaking thing. I'm working on developing a relationship with this publisher. I hope to continue with them and do my next book there also. I think developing a relationship with a single press is crucial. It becomes a two way street. You support and grow each other. One of the most challenging aspects is when a book comes to completion. It's a very final feeling you get. It's like okay, what the hell do I do now? You almost feel as though you're done - that you should retire or something (laughing). I totally needed some time away from the camera after that project went to press. I'm just now (a couple months later) starting to think about what's next. I'm interested in trying color maybe. I'm also interested in low-fi digital. I don't want to use a filter app though. I want to actually work with a shit camera. If I could get my hands on a 2MP cell phone I might have something. Let's see where I go next. It will be a surprise for both of us!

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